Monday, May 19, 2008

On Working from Home: Boundaries

To follow-up from yesterday's post, it seems the best topic to cover would be the boundaries that need to be set around working from home. In the short amount of time since I've had two children, it's quite likely I have enough fodder to write an entire book on this topic. Bearing that in mind, I'll be sure to edit my commentary to a digestible amount.

There are four types of boundaries you need to set when you are working from home:
  • Physical boundaries
  • With your children
  • With yourself
  • With your caregiver(s)
Physical boundaries. After working from home for a short time, I was ready to sacrifice eating lunch every day in order to have a proper space for my productivity (some days I got too busy for lunch, but alas, no magic office ever arrived). Designating a space with a door on it is one key to success. For a period of nine months of freelancing, I worked in our upstairs "office area." The problem with the office area was that it was open, and located at the top of our stairs in our little cape. So while I loved every second of hearing my two-year-old look up the stairs and yell "Mama!..." was not so great for conference calls. The physical boundary of a door also provides another benefit; as more of natural barrier, it helps your children with the "out of sight, out of mind" principle. If they are engaged with their caregiver, you may actually get them to forget you are in the house when you are behind a closed door.

With your children. This conversation will differ wildly if you have a toddler or a teenager. (Even trickier if you have both.) The toddler conversation may register to some extent, but the reality is that the younger your child, the more important it is to develop a plan with the caregiver. When my son was two, I told him mommy just worked upstairs now instead of somewhere else. It needed to be reinforced often, but we have a great caregiver, and she worked with me to corral him away from the office area and/or get him out of the house to activities, which helped quite a bit.

Recently, we have renovated our home and it has given us an office space--yes, with a door. Now my son is almost four, and because that room served another purpose (the almighty TV room...somewhat of a Mecca to Dora groupies), he's very used to walking right into it and plopping down. So there needs to be a constant reminder--and a much firmer directive from his caregiver--to keep out. "When the door is closed, honey, mommy is at work. And it's like when I work at the office, you can't just come in and see me or interrupt my phone calls."

I haven't experienced it personally yet, but I imagine that most teenagers would prefer you were at the office.

With yourself. You may be saying, "what does that mean? I have self-control! I won't do anything but work when I'm home. It will be great; I'll be able to focus and get so much done..."

"....oh, jeez, let me run up to the bedroom and get that wash to throw in the machine."

Aha! Actually, self-discipline is great if it comes naturally to you. But when you are aware of the fact you are in your own home all day, it becomes incredibly tempting to take care of a few little things; ultimately, enough distractions really eat up your day.

If it doesn't come naturally to you, set mini-goals for yourself over the course of the day to achieve your workload in a responsible manner. Or, create a set of rules as to how many personal tasks you can take care of around your work. Or, make a strict schedule as you begin your day and stick to it. There are plenty of ways to handle it.

On a side your multitasking. I was recently trying to breastfeed while on a conference call. I had my earbuds in from the BlackBerry, and muted the call when I was not speaking. Since I have a great relationship with the clients, they know I work from home a bit more often since the baby was born. I chipped in with some commentary, and before I knew it, one of the clients said, "Hey, was that the baby? Is this her first conference call?" UGGghhhhh.

I'm so used to her little noises that I didn't even realize she peeped. Good thing my client is a new parent as well, and a really good guy. I'll try not to repeat that one.

With your caregiver(s). If your child is at school or daycare while you are working, you have saved yourself some trouble. If you have a caregiver--be it a nanny, au pair, or their grandmother--and your child is in the house while you are, it's going to be a little more challenging. I swear sometimes my kids can smell that I'm in the house.

The most important thing to consider, which is important to remember when you have any sort of caregiver, is consistency. Set the rules and make sure the caregiver is going to enforce them the same way that you will with regard to what's allowed when you are home. And if you have more than one caregiver, make sure it's a consistent message to all of them.

Well, I'm not sure that was exactly a "digestible amount" but I'd love to hear any war stories around the boundaries of working from home if you've experienced it yourself. Love the trenches, share the trenches.


pve design said...

I remember nursing my youngest, paint brush in one hand, an art to master multi-tasking. I quite like the loft type office, but there is something to be said for a door and an "eject" button.
Rules for all make it much easier. Lists and work times not taking over family routine times are important to follow.

Kwana said...

Great Post N. You are so blessed to have a door. It's my fondest wish. I'm often pulled by my own mind, the laundry, the errands and all else. It's so hard to stay focused on where I should be. I'll be looking back on your post often to follow your advice.